People tend to malign the supermarket tabloids, but I have decided that they can be quite thought-provoking. I was out grocery shopping, and I glanced at the headlines as I stood in line. One, in particular, caught my attention. It alleged that an actress by the name of Angelina Jolie is pregnant and is concealing the fact. The tabloid provided a murky photo as documentary evidence. Talk about thought-provoking! A whole series of questions entered my mind.
Monday, January 21, 2008 :::
The first: Do I care that Angelina Jolie is (or may be) pregnant? I mulled that one over. After a fashion, I decided that I didn't. I just couldn't think of any reason why I should. I saw a movie she was in, The Good Shepherd, and hated it, but that is not reason enough for her alleged pregnancy to interest me.
The second: Does the editor of the tabloid expect me to care that Angelina Jolie is pregnant? This one was tougher, since it involved speculating on the motives of someone I don't know. The editor must know his job, since he is in (what I judge to be, based on the number of tabloids in the check-out aisle) a fiercely competitive market and he therefore must choose his headlines to attract the interest and money of the passer-by.
The third question followed inevitably: Why does the editor believe I would be interested in Ms. Jolie's possible pregnancy? I didn't make much headway with this one. The only idea I could come up with required me to lower my appraisal of the Great American Reading Public more than I was prepared to do.
Just when I thought I had a handle on the major issues, though, another question entered my mind. If the editor is correct (and I give him the benefit of the doubt, against my better judgment), Ms. Jolie is actively suppressing news of her pregnancy. Why would she hide her pregnancy? Well. I could come up with any number of reasons. Perhaps she fears a miscarriage and doesn't want to get friends' or relatives' hopes up. Maybe she hasn't yet had time to tell the father (Do actresses have husbands these days, or is the concept passé?). Maybe she is planning to have an abortion. There were lots of reasons why she might attempt to hide her pregnancy, but none of them reflected well on the editor of the tabloid. In fact, any reason I could come up with for the suppression led to the conclusion that the editor was being downright cruel in reporting the suppression and, indeed, the underlying pregnancy. I was beginning to build up a good mental image of this editor. He's smart, and a good businessman, with a low opinion of the GARP (Great American Reading Public). However, he also has a cruel streak. I pictured him as a grizzled old newsman, out of The Front Page, cigar in hand, bottle of cheap whiskey in his desk, poring over blurry photos of female celebrities, trying to find evidence of suppressed pregnancies.
The fourth question that arose is an old chestnut. Does this headline result from the coarsening of our culture? I knew I couldn't answer that one in the check-out line. Whether our culture is coarsening is, itself, a subject of debate. I know that in my grandmother's day, the word "pregnant" was not even allowed in polite conversation. "Expecting" was the preferred form, when one had to discuss the matter at all. And the editor's cruelty must also be taken as a piece of evidence, too. I decided, tentatively, that our culture was coarsening.
All of a sudden, a fifth question popped into my head. Am I a bad person for not caring about Angelina Jolie's pregnancy? Alas, we will never have an answer, because that was when my groceries reached the front of the belt. Do you have a bonus card, sir? Finally, a question I could answer. Yes, I have a bonus card. Now, where is the bonus card?
::: posted by Eric at 9:42 PM